When Rock Stars Live Their Lyrics
January 17, 2016
There is a saying in le théâtre that someone is a Triple Threat when they have 3 key talents: singing, acting and dancing.
We all agree that is likely true if we have ever visited Broadway. Yet as talented as many of these artistic and graceful humans are, few ever achieve thresholds beyond musical théâtre.
Certain people were born to play music. Some were born to sing. Some were born to dance. We were all born to live and can learn our own weapons, even if they don’t include any on the triple threat list. There are many elegant vehicles to tell our story.
Truly capturing people’s attention and becoming an icon or entertainer these days requires a special kind of triple threat. It starts with a genetic or learned talent, practiced through times of subjective struggle or hardship, and a later willingness to share the wisdom of the pain.
The biggest icons in music history were the ones that lived their lyrics. Tupac evoked grandiose unflappable gangsta’ personas in his raps, reflecting the survival realities and fear of growing up surrounded by violence, drugs, and struggling communities.
Often the power of the spoken word or lyric is not in the amazing voice that sings it, but rather wrapped in the autobiographical nature of the narrative, for the singer themselves.
Marshall McLuhan was certainly on to something when he famously said ‘The Medium is the Message’.
Look for no better example than the song ‘Hurt’, originally sung by Trent Reznor, later covered by Johnny Cash, as the Man In Black faced the other Man In Black.
Or Kurt Cobain singing the lyrics he wrote when we wished he was dead.
David Bowie was one of the best examples of a rock icon that lived his lyrics. He was Shakespearean in the predictive universality of his lyrics and looks. He was certainly ahead of his time, and all but laid out a sequined carpet for Caitlyn to make her debut. And, like William, he seems to have been a jester to the very end, essentially hiding his imminent death from the world.
Not having heard his latest album yet, I can only guess at the imagery of legacy, fear, and acceptance that likely sleeps forever woven into what he knew were his final songs.
Our current entertainment icons are a new breed of entertainer. The biggest deviation is the manufactured, produced and marketed nature of today’s stars, where there is often no connection between the lyric and the human singing it.
Lyrics are written by one artist, music composed by another, singers are matched by math and genres, while producers modify all final sounds. In the end, a new Frankensong is alive for a while on the Top Ten.
In the end it seems squeaky clean like a car wash, but the flavor lasts about as long as juicy fruit.
Some notable exceptions may be Taylor Swift and Adele, both insanely popular at the moment and also fairly insanely completely in charge of their lyrics, music and image. While both have evolved in their fashion and sought outside production and collaboration influences, there are core features they each stay true to, and we seem to tune into that frequency.
What I take away from all of this is the blueprint of how to be a better artist, regardless of craft.
I want to hone my writing skill by reading and writing everything I can get my eyes on. I want to soak in the ways of saying the things we all say. I want to return to my uncomfortable places and take a closer look at the pain. And then I want to try my best to be honest with you about what happened to me along my way, with lyrics only I could have written.
We should all try our best to find our deepest lyrics and when the time comes, find a way to share it with the rest of us.
As for me, I want to be a writing triple threat.
Simon Trepel, MD
Simon Trepel, MD FRCPC, is a practicing Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, in Winnipeg, Canada. He is an Assistant Professor, at the University Of Manitoba, in the Faculty of Medicine, and the Co-founder of the GDAAY Clinic. He is, more importantly, the proud Father of 2 beautiful Daughters. He writes in his spare time about things he knows something about, and occasionally about things he doesn’t; like Yoga, and Italian flavored coffees. This post was not autobiographical, in case you were wondering.
Check out his Blog, called Simon Says Psych Stuff, at